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Panasonic relocates global business unit HQ from Japan to Singapore

Panasonic has recently launched its refrigeration compressor business unit (RCBU) on 7 April 2017. Speaking at the opening ceremony, minister for manpower Lim Swee Say elaborated on how the Singapore operation will be transformed in three ways:

  • The global business unit headquarter (HQ) will relocate from Japan to Singapore
  • The Singapore manufacturing plant will be transformed from traditional manufacturing to smart manufacturing
  • The research and development (R&D) centre in Singapore will be upgraded

Relocating Panasonic's global business unit HQ to Singapore

During the launch, Panasonic also announced that its global business unit HQ will move from Japan to Singapore. This will be the first such relocation of a global headquarter outside of Japan in recent decades for the company.

With the set-up of RCBU’s global HQ in Singapore, Khoo Chew Thong (who started the Singapore RCBU R&D department in 1988) will be managing the business development of the RCBU group of companies worldwide, beyond the regional market.

In addition, he will take on new responsibilities to manage intellectual property rights for RCBU.

Transforming to smart manufacturing

Moving away from traditional manufacturing, Panasonic's new digitally-enabled smart factory will see a manufacturing control tower. Machines will also be fitted with sensors to detect problems early, before the production line is disrupted.

Machines can also talk to each other, to pass parts from one operation to another without human intervention. By gathering and analysing all this data, human operators can work smarter and better.

Minister Lim remarked: “The use of digital technologies can help to connect and coordinate different activities in the manufacturing process, so that work is done in a more manpower-lean, efficient, and effective manner.”

Panasonic has clearly proven that automation has not only benefited the company but also the workers. Over the past three years, the company has upgraded its manufacturing process in phases to increase automation, with support from the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB).

Despite its operations becoming more manpower-lean, its local workers have not been retrenched but “retrained to work alongside these robots.” In fact, the median salary of its local staff has increased by 35% through this transformation.

Minister Lim said: “Instead of ‘robotisation’, what we see here is ‘cobotisation’, where workers and robots working together as co-workers.”

Upgrade of R&D centre in Singapore

Panasonic's R&D centre in Singapore is also set for an upgrade. The centre will spearhead R&D for new products and emerging refrigeration technologies for Panasonic’s global business. It is expected to more than double in size as it takes on this new role.

Currently, the Panasonic Singapore plant employs 1,300 staff including a 50-man R&D team. Minister Lim also highlighted how Panasonic has shown how a progressive and responsible global company can come to Singapore and create positive outcomes – for the company, people, and Singapore as a whole.

He said: “Using technology, we can improve the competitiveness of businesses, and improve the jobs, careers and wages of our workers at the same time.”

Photo / 123RF

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